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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Paul Green, May 30, 1975. Interview B-0005-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The emotional immaturity of the Group Theater collective

Green reflects on what he considers to be the overemotionalism of members of the Group Theater, a theater collective seeking to shape American stage production in the 1930s and 1940s. In a way, Green's comments are an indictment of the artist, a person with no lived experience trying to fake it for an audience. His description of a young actor learning to cut wood, however, seems to indicate his belief that even the most soft-handed actors can learn.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Paul Green, May 30, 1975. Interview B-0005-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACQUELYN HALL:
I was wondering what kind of impact your experiences with the Group Theater had on your thinking? Did it change you?
PAUL GREEN:
I don't think that it affected me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you see yourself as being different from these people?
PAUL GREEN:
I always felt that I couldn't subscribe to … there was a sentimental fervor in them and that offended me. They were so full of Stanislavsky, but I never saw a Group Theater actor on stage that I didn't realize that here was a guy or a person much more sensitive and much more resilient to the theater than, say, some of the old timers like Sidney Blackmer, who was a good actor. These people, they felt … Lee J. Cobb, Morris Carmovsky, John Garland, Elia Kazan, they all went through there and they all came out, I think, with their emotional nature exacerbated.
JACQUELYN HALL:
It is interesting to me that you were critical of their emotional involvement in their work because your plays are very emotional. I am sure that you have been criticized for being too personally involved in your work and too emotional.
PAUL GREEN:
I guess that one thing was just their ignorance of and their distaste for the American philosophy of government. They knew little about it. They were, most of them … well, one of them came down here and wanted to play in one of these outdoor dramas that I had written and the young man in the outdoor drama was a pioneer, a hard working guy who would grab an axe and cut a tree down, you know. He was a real worker. Well, this boy, he hardly knew what an axe was, but he wanted to play this part. So, he spent a couple of days with me and he could feel all over the place, he was full of feeling and so, I talked to him about this guy and I said, "Have you ever tried to cut a tree down?" He said, "No, I haven't." I said, "Would you like to try?" He said, "Sure, sure." His hands were so soft and white. I said, "Well, do you know what a crosscut saw is?" "No." I said, "Well, I have one on the shelf and I have a couple of axes and we'll go out here in the forest and try our hands at cutting down a tree." He had read the part and he wasn't very good in it. He was a soft boy, six feet something and had about twenty or twenty-five pounds of extra flesh and he could hardly hit the tree with that axe. Well, we worked awhile and he was panting and he took off his shirt and he was sweating and finally I said, "How are your hands?" They looked red and so we went back in the house and he read again. I said, "You are reading better." So, the next day I said, "Let's do some more cutting." We went out and cut some and I said, "How are your hands?" He said, "Pretty bad shape." I said, "Well, this boy, you know, he got to where he could cut all day long." Well, anyhow, from the actual participation in that work, he came back and he got the part and he later played it and played it better because of that bit of experience. Well, it is the lack of that sort of experience that … the Group Theater was emotionally involved by way of Stanislavsky, but they knew nothing about America, really.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What about the Theater Union, were they more or less different from the Group Theater?
PAUL GREEN:
They were all sort of similar. I remember Mike Gold, wasn't he the editor of the Communist paper?
JACQUELYN HALL:
The New Masses?
PAUL GREEN:
the New Masses or whatever it was. Well, a lot of them, they were full of feeling and full of ignorance, naive, but were much better artists than the Gordon Craig theory. He has a theory that an actor is just a puppet, he is moving and the director is the man, everything comes through the actor by way of the director. These people … I remember one night in the Theater Guild in New York, we had a rehearsal without scenery, we had an invited audience, some critics and these kids, they had no scenery but they had some props and had a table, they pantomimed the story as they went through. They got so overcome at a place in the play that Morris Carnovsky let out a sob or something and another girl, Stella Adler, dod too and they all broke down and cried. They had to stop the show while they all cried and wept. They were all so full of their own feeling. Well, I was about to go around and spit on the ground, "to heck with this."